Politics

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, endorsed by Trump, wins Republican primary

Incumbent AG Ken Paxton prevailed over Land Commissioner George P. Bush despite Paxton facing a 2015 state securities fraud indictment and an ongoing FBI corruption investigation.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Incumbent Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has won the Republican primary over George P. Bush, the Texas General Land Office commissioner, with a margin of more than two-to-one, according to the Texas Secretary of State's Office tally.

Paxton was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and is known for challenging Democratic presidents and blue Texas cities while working to move Texas further to the right.

His win comes on the same day that a gunman killed at least 21 people, including 18 children at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

In his victory speech, Paxton sounded a somber note, reflecting on the mass shooting.

“We’re going down there [to Uvalde] tomorrow,” Paxton said at his watch party. “We’re going to do our job tomorrow. We’re going to try to help these people.”

Paxton’s victory capped one of the most hotly contested campaigns in the state this year and brought an end, at least temporarily, to the hopes of the storied Bush political dynasty.

Paxton's win marks the second political loss in a row for the Bush family in Texas.

George P. Bush's cousin Pierce Bush ran for the Republican nomination for Texas 22nd Congressional District in 2020, but he failed to make it past the first round of the primary against then-Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls and second-place finisher Kathaleen Wall. Nehls ultimately won both the primary and the general election.

"Things didn't go as we planned," George P. Bush said in a concession statement on Facebook. "But after the tragic events of earlier today, it's important to keep life's temporary disappointments in perspective. There are grieving parents in South Texas today. My family and I are grieving with them."

Republican Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush makes a campaign stop, Feb. 10, 2022, in Austin.

Paxton secured his victory despite heavy legal baggage. He was indicted on state securities fraud charges in the summer of 2015, less than a year after winning his first term as attorney general.

The FBI opened an investigation into Paxton for alleged bribery, corruption and abuse of office in 2020, according to the Associated Press.

George P. Bush blasted Paxton throughout the campaign as unfit for office, arguing that Paxton's legal troubles would make him especially vulnerable against his ultimate Democratic rival.

"The Republican Party is taking a huge risk going with Ken Paxton. In fact, he will lose to the Democrat in this race," Bush said at a press conference in Austin Tuesday morning, all but acknowledging the likelihood of his loss to Paxton.

For his part, Paxton has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, citing a 374-page report that concluded he's innocent. As critics have pointed out, the report came from inside the AG’s office, and was unsigned. The whistleblowers whose charges sparked the investigation released a statement blasting Paxton for “numerous false and misleading public statements” about the investigation.

But for Republican voters inclined to support Paxton, his legal troubles didn't make much of a dent.

“The issue itself is one that has in some ways (been) hard to mobilize because it's been around for so long,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “This is not something new or something novel that people are learning about, because Democrats and some Republicans have been talking about Ken Paxton's legal problems for really the entirety of his tenure in office.”

Most Republican voters tended to see Paxton as a staunch conservative who has challenged Democratic presidents and liberal Texas cities while working to move Texas further to the right, experts say. In the runoff, Bush tried to tag Paxton as comparatively weak on border security, but the charge failed to stick.

"George P. Bush tried to move to the right of Ken Paxton, and that was a hard sell for most Republican primary voters," said Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston. "No one has successfully outflanked Ken Paxton, who's sidled as close to (former president) Donald Trump as anybody can."

Paxton benefited from Trump's endorsement. The Texas attorney general sued to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election. That case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a slew of Congressional Republicans — including 14 from Texas — filed an amicus brief in support of Paxton's case. Paxton also spoke at the Trump rally that directly preceded the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

Paxton will now face Rochelle Garza, a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, in the general election. Garza defeated former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski in the Democratic primary runoff by roughly a three-to-two margin.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media's business reporter, covering the oil...

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